Sacrificing your career for your partner. Have you ever heard an expat partner say that? Have you ever thought this about your own career?
Before I left The Netherlands, the thought crossed my mind. I’m giving up this job I love for a man. Am I giving up financial independence for an uncertain future? That’s not how I was raised, I was told to not depend on a man. What if… my marriage falls apart? … he loses his job? … he gets sick? (yes, I got carried away on the what if train).
Bye Bye Comfort Zone
Moving abroad is scary. You leave everything behind, at least for some time. And it’s exciting too, as it presents new opportunities. However, when we step out of our comfort zone, it can be easy to panic. Especially if a move triggers some of your core values and beliefs. Like financial independence, the drive to make the world a better place (I worked in human rights and international law), or ambition.
Expat spouse dissatisfaction is the biggest reason that assignments fail, and the lack of career opportunities is a definite factor in that, especially with the rise in dual career couples.
Sacrificing your career
However, moving abroad is not the same as sacrificing your career for your partner.
Expatriation is not a zero sum game. If one partner gains an advantage from it, it does not mean that the other partner must suffer an equivalent disadvantage. On the contrary, both partners can gain in expected and unexpected ways.
A career is not an animal, used in an ancient ritual in Egypt, sacrificed to obtain the blessing of the gods.
Remember: A career can’t die unless you let it.
You do not have to fall off the career ladder.
You can build your own life and career ladder!
Why you shouldn’t “sacrifice” your career for a partner
If you start defining moving abroad in terms of sacrifice, it will start feeling like there’s nothing you can do about it.
If you only move abroad to please your partner, you will quite possibly not have a good time. Because despite all the nice Instagram pictures, life abroad is still life, with all it’s ups and downs.
Expats do get sick abroad, your partner might lose their job, you will miss your family and friends. Your kids may struggle with the move.
Living in a different culture is challenging. Also, if you “sacrifice” just for the money, you may also discover that life abroad is usually not cheap, especially if you want to eat your favourite imported products. Tickets to travel home are expensive.
What Is A Career
A first step to step away from sacrifice is to realise what a career means to you. Your idea of a career is probably not exactly the same as mine.
A career is an image in your mind of what an “ideal” working existence looks like for you. Often but not always it involves promotions, pay rise, perhaps job hopping, formal clothing.
You know the career ladder image- you “must” go up on that ladder.
It is safe to say that when you move abroad with a partner, the ideal career image in your head receives a blow, at least initially. For a variety of reasons (think work permits, language barriers) it is often not as “easy” to climb the ladder abroad as a spouse.
It may feel like you tumbled off the ladder.
The Staying Stuck Trap
So, there you are, lying there on the ground so to speak, abroad. It hurts, when you think you fell off the ladder. You try to numb the pain by trying to be the best in other areas of life– trying to be the Best Mum (or Dad)- but kids will always cry. Trying to be the Best Volunteer- but not everyone is grateful for your good work. Trying to be Very Healthy- but some days you give in to chocolate.
All too often I see partners do this to themselves:
- Underappreciating what they do for their families
- Underappreciating their contributions to their community
- Underusing the resources they have for personal development
- Staying stuck in the thought “I don’t know what I want to do with my life”
- Not exploring potential career or personal development opportunities abroad
Your Career Does Not Disappear
Just because you are on a dependent visa does not mean you are incapable of ever having your own career again. I know enough people who got back on track upon return, after 4 years, 6 years, more as well.
There are plenty of ways in which to develop yourself abroad, as an individual, as a parent, a partner, paid or unpaid, in a job or just because you live outside of your comfort zone. Plenty of fantastic experiences that you would have never had if you had stayed at home. But it is not a walk in the park either- there will be plenty of challenges too.
Yes, it may be harder to enter the same career field at the same level when you move back home. Yes, you may need to take additional training. Yes, if you want to step into a new career, you may not know what you want to do. Yes, you will need to spend time thinking and experimenting about career change if that’s what you want. No, you do not need to start from scratch, the experience you gained before and during expatriation does not disappear.
Stop the Sacrifice- Better Reasons to Move Abroad
Hey you! Stop sacrificing your career and giving your power away.
Take charge of your life and career when you move abroad for your partner’s job.
Choose to live abroad because you want to:
- have the adventure of a life time
- spend more time with your kids
- develop yourself outside of the standard career box,
- discover what more life has to offer beyond your 9-5 job
- get to know yourself when you are not on auto pilot
- try out a new career
- see the world
Appreciate and develop yourself
Appreciate your own efforts, do not rely on other people or magic to make things happen. If you just want to spend a few years with the kids and doing things you enjoy- great, then do just that. When you want to study, figure out what you like and start. If you want to find a job, make it happen. Just don’t lean back and blame your partner for an imaginary “sacrifice.”
Build your own ladder
Start exploring what’s possible. Maybe you won’t immediately find what you are looking for, but that’s ok, go step by step.
Start building your own life and career ladder abroad. What does it look like? What do you want to see in it? How will it evolve as your family evolves?
It may not look like your ladder back home, but so what?
It can be a more adventurous, colourful, exciting ladder- your own ladder!